A Finance Pathway to Ag for Development

May 5, 2021

Back in 2017, Kirt Hainzer was a Crawford Fund conference scholar from Central Queensland University. Kirt’s pathway to agriculture development is arguably not the norm. He started with a Bachelor of Finance in the UK, years as a management consultant in Australia before 10 years in Asia, Europe and the Americas in agriculture development, agriculture research and as a farmer. Through that he completed an MSc in Agroecology from Wageningen University and finds himself now as a Senior Researcher with CQU working on an ACIAR funded project to develop value chains for sweet potato farmers in Papua New Guinea. Here’s Kirt’s story which concludes “Agriculture touches on so many facets of life that a path to AgR4D really can come from anywhere!”

I don’t know what percentage of students studying for their bachelor’s degree have wondered if they’ve chosen the wrong thing, but I’d say it’s pretty high. I was one of those students questioning my choices.  I was naturally drawn to studying finance from a deep love of knowing the business of things. I grew up in the restaurants my parents owned, and cash flow, and the commerce that creates it, is exciting. It really is. So studying a Bachelor of Finance seemed like a natural fit until my final year, and it was time to find an actual career. Almost everyone I had studied with ended up going for jobs at investment banks, delighted by the chance to spend the majority of their days drowning in financial models. I ended up as a management consultant with one of the big four, which I knew wasn’t the exciting life of cash flow I thought I’d signed up for, but it was a step in a different direction that I hoped would lead somewhere more exciting. And it did. Less than 5 years later, I was working with farming entrepreneurs in Laos and Nepal.

Farmers who participate in profit-driven agriculture, at whatever scale, are running a business. Not surprisingly, I draw on much from my time as a management consultant now working in agricultural research for development. As a management consultant, I worked predominately in mergers and acquisitions. In these time-critical environments, I was put on a fast track to understand the drivers of value in a business. I worked on deals targeting airlines, banks, and on Australia’s largest corporate takeover targeting one of our supermarket chains, with each new engagement giving me further insight and knowledge into business fundamentals.

I am currently working on a project to support commercial sweet potato farmers in Papua New Guinea and was recently able to put my finance background to good use. With access to finance being one of the biggest challenges facing smallholders in low-income economies, projects throughout the world are trying to connect farmers to financial services. Without any culturally relevant training for adult learners in PNG, I used my finance background to break down the complex thinking required to see a farm as a business into culturally relevant content so farmers could apply for finance. With some farmer groups already successful in gaining finance, it is these experiences where I am genuinely grateful for my background in finance. How education approaches for farmers in low-income economies can include culturally relevant content is a fascinating field and the focus of my PhD studies.

Whether you’re in a degree you’re not sure about or still wondering if the degree you’ve finished was the right one, you never know how you’ll use what you’ve learnt. Agriculture touches on so many facets of life that a path to AgR4D really can come from anywhere!